Will the pools remain open?
Proposal would ban officials from closing pools due to drought
ATLANTA — In a bid to keep swimming pools in drought-stricken Georgia open this year, three Republican lawmakers say they’ve found a way to stop environmental officials from shutting them down.
A measure introduced Tuesday in both the House and Senate would prevent the Georgia Environmental Protection Division from “indiscriminately” closing swimming pools because of the weather conditions, which the bill’s sponsors said could cripple Georgia’s $150 million pool industry.
“I know of no other state where non-elected officials have taken such a drastic measure,” said Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock. “There is absolutely no evidence that closing swimming pools will noticeably impact our drought situation.”
But it’s unclear whether the measure could impact a final decision on pools, as Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office said he would also help decide the fate of Georgia’s swimming pools.
The epic drought forced state officials to ban virtually all outdoor watering in north Georgia, an edict that could also restrict homeowners and communities from filling up their outdoor pools.
EPD Director Carol Couch’s office did not have an immediate comment. But Couch said last week she’s studying ways to give residents more flexibility and plans to hand Perdue a recommendation soon addressing swimming pools.
She said she was concerned by forecasts that say the drought could continue through the summer, and said careful study is needed before she agrees to relax restrictions.
Residents in booming north Georgia are anxiously waiting for Perdue’s decision.
Tens of thousands of swimmers are planning to sign up for swim leagues, and lifeguards, swim instructors and pool managers are eager to see whether they will have jobs.
Sen. John Wiles, who cosponsored the bill, said suburban Cobb County alone has about 70 swim leagues with more than 7,500 members. “The economic and social impact of closing all swimming pools would be devastating,” he said.
Couch’s office did not have an immediate comment.
Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said the state is “constantly evaluating” its response to the historic drought.
“We are hopeful the rains will come and lift us out of the need for outdoor watering restrictions, but we also have to be mindful of the dry weather forecasted for this spring and summer,” he said.
The lawmakers, though, seemed eager to send their own message.
Sen. Judson Hill, a Marietta Republican who also sponsored the bill, said that environmental officials would be “overreaching” if they shut down neighborhood pools.
“When bureaucrats wield power in such a manner,” he said, “then elected officials have no choice but to step in and stop the madness.”